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Army says no felony in grisly Web images

/ Source: The Associated Press

After an initial look at complaints about U.S. soldiers posting photos of Iraq war dead on an Internet site, Army investigators concluded they had too little evidence to pursue criminal charges.

An Islamic civil rights group called on the Defense Department to take action, while the Florida man who runs the Web site said Wednesday he has no intention of taking the photos down or stopping future postings.

The controversy centers on grisly photographs of what appear to be war dead. The Web site says they were posted by U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan who, in exchange, received free access to online pornography.

Army officials expressed concern that the matter could trigger an anti-American backlash in the Middle East. One official said the Army was considering the possibility of banning the use of personal cameras and personal computers by soldiers while they are in war zones.

Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman, called the corpse postings despicable and unacceptable.

Paul Boyce, an Army spokesman, said the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division in recent days concluded from a preliminary inquiry that there was insufficient evidence to pursue felony charges against anyone.

However, he said, “While this may not rise to the level of a felony crime, it’s still serious.”

An Islamic civil rights group expressed disappointment in the Army’s decision not to pursue criminal charges.

“Their conclusion would be entirely premature,” said Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations. “For this to be treated in a manner that suggests the Army does not take this seriously is only going to further harm our nation’s image and interests around the world, particularly the Muslim world.”

Boyce and other officials said that while no criminal investigation would be pursued based on currently available evidence, disciplinary action may be taken against individual soldiers if it can be verified that they used government computers to transmit digital photos of Iraqi war dead.

Such an act could be deemed a violation of Article 134 of the Uniformed Code of Military Justice, which proscribes behavior that undermines good order and discipline or brings discredit to the military.

Gen. Peter Schoomaker, the Army chief of staff, sent a message Wednesday to soldiers in the field reminding them of guidelines issued by the Defense Department and the Army regarding “Internet safety.” He referred mainly to prohibitions on posting information or photos that jeopardize troop security. He did not mention the corpse photos, and spokesmen said his message was not in reaction to news stories this week describing the Web site that offers access to online pornography in exchange for corpse photos.

Some of the photos show dismembered corpses, described in accompanying Web postings as Iraqis killed in U.S. attacks. Some show what appear to be internal human organs; others show what look like charred human remains.

The Web site is owned by 27-year-old Chris Wilson, who oversees it from his apartment in Lakeland, Fla. He started it about 18 months ago as a place where men could post nude photos of their wives and girlfriends.

For the last seven or eight months, the site also has become a venue for soldiers serving in the war zones to post photos depicting their daily lives, including the grisly images of dead people identified as Iraqi and Afghani insurgents.

“To me this is a real look at what’s going on over there,” Wilson said in an interview Wednesday. He said he has no intention of taking the photos down or stopping future posts. “It’s right from their cameras to the site.”

Wilson said the Pentagon has not contacted him about the photos.

Boyce said Army investigators could not verify that U.S. soldiers were involved because the Web site postings were anonymous and investigators were unsure of the authenticity and origin of the photos. He said the matter had been referred to U.S. commanders in Iraq.